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Stepfather-Stepson Communication

Social Support in Stepfamily Worlds


Jonathan Pettigrew

This book offers a novel analysis of communication in stepfather-stepson relationships and is one of the first to examine the ways stepfathers communicate and to integrate the perspectives of adolescents into research on stepfamily communication. In order to understand the complex dynamics of stepfamilies, Jonathan Pettigrew presents six case studies of different families. They are written as engaging narratives – including interviews – that offer flavorful accounts of family members and their relationships with each other. Pettigrew then looks across cases to identify, describe, and examine patterns of stepfather support. This book builds upon current understandings of stepfamily life by providing a descriptive and heuristic model of supportive stepfather-stepson communication, making it valuable for those who study and work with families.
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Chapter Two. Fathers, Stepfathers, and Support


← 8 | 9 → • CHAPTER TWO •

Fathers, Stepfathers, and Support

This chapter paints a picture, in broad strokes, of what we know about fathers and stepfathers with an eye to understanding what support means and how it is communicated to their children. The chapter includes a description of the relational view of communication, the theoretical framework that I used to help understand communication and support among these family members, as well as the research framework and methods I used in this study.

Fathering and Stepfathering

Existing studies of fathers and stepfathers support four basic claims. First, fathering or stepfathering is not an independent activity but occurs within a web of other relationships. Second, research suggests that the more effort a father or stepfather puts into his relationship with his child, the more he gets out of it for himself and for his children. Third, fathering and stepfathering are somewhat different kinds of activities. And, fourth, communication is key in creating and sustaining stepfather-stepson relationships.

Stepfathering as a Relational Act

It is important to remember that fathering or stepfathering is not an autonomous act but a relational one. Palkovitz (2002) reminds us that the term “father”—and by extension stepfather—is inherently relational: “A father is only a father in relation to a child” (p. 3). The primary, traditional, and widely accepted distinguishing feature between a father and a stepfather is biology. The term “father” typically implies, at a minimum, a...

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